Victorian Social Rules for Gentlemen | Manners & Etiquette


A gentleman tips his hat when a lady acknowledges him in public.

During the American Civil War era, and in Victorian times, gentlemen were held to a certain standard of social behavior.

In fact, they were judged by their social graces, which would indicate whether this man was indeed a gentleman.

Fathers watched behavior, looking for suitable mates for their marriageable daughters. And girls particularly took notice of social standards when entertaining a gentleman’s intentions.

Here are some of those standards…most of which should still apply today.

Social Rules for Gentlemen

Social rules for a gentleman’s clothing

  • Remove your hat when entering a building.
  • Always wear gloves in the street, in church, and at other formal occasions, except when eating or drinking. White or cream-colored gloves were worn in the evening, gray or other dark-colored gloves were worn during the day.
  • Lift your hat to a lady when she greets you in public.
  • Between gentlemen, a small nod of the head, a gesture of the hand, or a mere touching of the hat is a sufficient acknowledgement. To a casual acquaintance a bow may be offered without speaking, but with those with whom you are better acquainted, more cordiality is expected. A bow should always be returned, even to an enemy.

Victorian social etiquette for gentlemen in the presence of ladies:

  • Stand when a lady enters a room.
  • Stand when a lady stands.
  • Offer a lady your seat if no other seat is available.
  • Assist the lady with her chair when she sits or stands. Especially at a table.
  • Retrieve dropped items for a lady.
  • Open doors for a lady.
  • Help a lady with her coat, cloak or shawl.
  • Offer to bring a lady refreshments if they are available.
  • Offer your arm to escort a lady (with whom you are acquainted) into or out of a building or a room at all social events, and whenever walking on uneven ground.

Basic social rules of things a gentleman should never do:

  • Never refer to another person by their first name in public.
  • Never curse or discuss “impolite” subjects when ladies are present.
  • Never leave a lady you know unattended, except with permission.
  • Never use tobacco in any form when ladies are present.
  • Never greet a lady in public unless she acknowledges you first.
  • Never eat or drink while wearing gloves.

Miss Meredith Sweetpea sighs sweetly as she reads these, and recalls how pleasant it is when in the presence of a gentleman.

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2 Responses

  1. Love your info! I write Victorian romance novels. I wish I found this a year ago…. Imagine if men acted like this today? Thank you.

    • Thank you, Diana, and congratulations on your books. If only everyone acted with more manners, indeed. If you have any ideas for additional posts on Victorianism you’d like to see, let me know!

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